Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Discussing politics in the Yellow Loess Plateau.

During my stay in the village in Shanxi detailed in my previous post, I had an interesting chance to hear the political views of the father of the friend I was staying with. Her father spends most of his time working in cities as a labourer, although he comes back to his home in the village regularly. One evening he started telling me how when he was a child, Chinese schools stopped teaching foreign languages for a while because Jiang Qing, the wife of chairman Mao and a member of the Gang of Four that was behind the Cultural Revolution, said that in her opinion learning other languages was not necessary.

Since he obviously didn't think the Cultural Revolution was a good period, I decided to ask him why there was a medallion of Chairman Mao dangling over the bed where I slept. He told me that he admires Chairman Mao, because when he took power he redistributed the land to the peasants. I have often heard this mentioned as a reason why the Chairman is still held in high esteem. He started telling me how Mao Zedong fought against the Guomindang, who wanted to exploit the people. Even though he made some mistakes in later years, he is still basically a positive figure. I then asked him if he also admires Deng Xiaoping. He immediately shook his head, and said the Deng Xiaoping improved the economy by starting the "reform and opening up", but at the same time the society's "security" got worse. I asked what he meant by security, and he answered that political corruption has got much much worse. Nowadays most politicians are corrupt, and the ordinary people can do nothing about it. The man's anger at the politicians' corruption was obviously very strong. He also said that since Deng Xiaoping got into power, people's attitudes have changed. In the old days people would help each other out, but nowadays they only think about themselves and about making money. My host also quoted the famous saying by Deng Xiaoping "it doesn't matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches the mice". While the phrase was usually understood in the West to mean "it doesn't matter if the economy is socialist or capitalist, as long as it works well", his understanding was rather different. According to him, the saying's real meaning is "it doesn't matter if you make money by honest or dishonest means, as long as you get rich". The way he sees it, this philosophy caused a big decrease in public morality.

The man's views rather confirmed what I read in a book by prof. Mobo Gao, "the battle for China's past", in which the author stated that in rural areas of China people tend to have a generally positive image of Mao, but a negative one of Deng Xiaoping and of the current leaders, who are seen as corrupt and developing the country at their expense.

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